Former Melbourne City caretaker and assistant coach Michael Valkanis is set to accept a new role “coaching the coaches” at Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle, in a first for an Australian overseas.
The ex-Adelaide United skipper, who was also formerly on the Reds coaching staff during his 14 years at the club, will work out of the Dutch outfit’s youth academy in a bespoke niche role “coaching coaches, implementing philosophy and conducting tactical theorisation”.
Having survived December’s sacking of John van’t Schip - the ex-Melbourne City coach who brought him on board as an assistant 11 months back - Valkanis sees the irony of the offer on the table.
“It’s funny to think of an Aussie doing that here (in a nation better known for exporting than importing football expertise),” Valkanis told The World Game.
“I never would have dreamed that an Aussie would come over here and perform such a role.
“It’s something I’ve done before at Adelaide and Melbourne City, but doing it all the way over in the Eredivisie has been an eye opener, and a big opportunity.”
Valkanis works under the umbrella of head coach Jaap Stam, the ex-Manchester United defender who has guided the club to mid-table safety and is exiting for Feyenoord next season.
A typical day for Valkanis begins at 7.30am, when he sits down with with his fellow academy coaches to plan a day of training across multiple age groups.
“We take a lot of sessions and while working closely with the individual coaches, I also work with a group of high potential players in master class sessions - these are players we think might be fast tracked to the senior team.
“It’s about trying to help them make that step as quickly as possible.
“PEC is aspiring to be one of Holland’s best academies and has come a long way in the past four years in terms of what they’ve put in place.
“They’re the only academy in the country that also has their own school.
“In terms of the football style, we’re trying to streamline that throughout the academy teams.”
Dutch football is in the midst of a revival at both national team and club level, with Ajax’s presence in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League exemplifying that.
With his new gig set to be officially ratified later this month, Valkanis added: “The club has a really good vision and the coaches here are full on.
“They are open minded and just want to be better all the time, rather than having the mentality of ‘I know it all’.
“There’s so much competition in terms of youth development in Holland they have to keep looking forward and trying to improve their environments to get the best kids in.
“There’s a recognition throughout the country that they stagnated and got left behind by the Spanish and Germans.
“But there’s a new mindset across the whole game. It’s an interesting time to be here.”
Another Australian who’s made a dent at PEC this season is Olyroos midfielder Denis Genreau, whose on-loan spell from Melbourne City began with a flurry of appearances but has run a little dry in the second half of the season.
Despite that, Valkanis expects PEC to try and keep the 19-year-old on for at least another year.
While reveling in his role, Valkanis misses the day-to-day involvement with the senior team.
“I’d love to do that (at some point) again as well but I just need to be a bit patient and see how things evolve.
“There are a few things on the horizon and I just need to make the right decisions.”